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It was, as they say, a beautiful day for a ball game. Or, rather, it was a beautiful day for a ball game for several hours, until about mid-afternoon, but we were planning on making the trip to Wade Municipal Stadium to watch the Waterloo Bucks face the Duluth Huskies Saturday night, so a little foul weather wasn’t going to mess us up.
That’s how naive we were. My wife, Joan, had invited her best friend Beth to visit from the Twin Cities, and it turns out that Beth is an intense sports fan, and by coincidence, her two nephews were both playing for the Waterloo club in the Northwoods League. So we filled Saturday with a lot of busy things, including the Farmer’s Market, the Park Point Art Fair, and various other items.
It was about 4 p.m. when the black clouds came roiling over the hill heading for Lake Superior, with no regard whatsoever for whatever was in their path. We had time to run home from the Art Fair and put on some sturdier clothes than the shorts and light shirts that were plenty for most of the day. When the monsoon hit, it barely gave us pause. I’ve been going to Wade since I was a kid in the 1950s, and played on that field a few times in youth and high school baseball, so I’m aware of the challenges weather can pose.
But this is the renewed Wade, with some pretty amazing drainage set up under the artificial turf. It’s so impressive that if it’s not actually a downpour at the time, you can play a game because all the water magically vanishes. So I convinced Joan and Beth that we should still go, and we did.
We were sitting up high for the 6 p.m. start, and the rain had subsided, so the field looked great. It was Boy Scout Night, but the little lads apparently were not looking for any withstand-the-weather merit badges and not many were evident. We had a chance to join Aunt Beth and meet her nephews, brothers Zach Soria and Nate Soria, both of whom are catchers. Zack plays for Division I Florida International, and Nate plays for Xavier. Both appear to be promising prospects, and this summer gave them a unique opportunity to be teammates, and roommates, on the same Northwoods team in Waterloo.
Another Bucks player is Alex Boxwell, who is from Coon Rapids and plays for the University of Minnesota, and is a factor in the Bucks chase of the division championship. The Huskies, of course, have had a weird start to the season, winning all the games on their opening road trip, then losing all their games on their opening homestand, and they stand about .500 right now.
As we awaited the start of the game, several healthy shafts of lightning were visible off in the distance. In the Northwoods League, rain, snow, sleet and cold are tolerable, but lightning? No. So the announcement was made that the game’s start would be delayed until 6:30, then 7, then 8, and, after Joan and Beth had gone for a walk, until 9 p.m. As hardened Duluthians, we realized that when foul weather fronts come over the hill and head out over the lake, they’re gone. So as these black clouds headed off toward, say, Green Bay, we could still see some lighting over the horizon, but we knew it wasn’t threatening us but headed for central Wisconsin.
Rules, however, are rules, so every time one of those fast-departing lighting shafts flashed in the sky, the game’s start was set back another half-hour. Our game-plan was to enjoy the game from 6-9 p.m., then maybe go out for a pizza or something. The game started at 9, instead, and we were hanging in there. As were the Huskies, who jumped ahead 2-0 in the first, and made it 3-0 in the second.
A left-hander named Riley Gates was pitching for the Huskies, and he had good stuff, striking out seven in five innings. Gates pitches for Brigham Young, and the Division I guys in the Northwoods League have a distinct upper hand on their Division II and III teammates and foes.
My immediate favorite Huskies player for the day was center-fielder Daniel Amaral, who drove in the third run for a 3-2 Duluth lead, and later took off running from his center-field post after a Waterloo extra-base hit try. Amaral made what looked like a futile dive toward the wall at full speed and landed in a heap. But when he got up, he had caught the ball, a fantastic catch that nullified a threat and helped hold the 3-2 lead for Duluth. The Huskies added two runs in the last of the eighth and won 5-2.
You might hesitate to say that the result of the game didn’t matter, because that sounds like a cop-out, but the chance for these college guys to play competitive ball in a pro setting is what it’s all about. But that 5-2 victory was a big one for the Huskies, and helped the remaining fans – we counted, twice, and got 65 the first time and 70 the second – leave Wade in a good, but weary, mood. It was about 10 after midnight when we left Wade and headed home. Your basic 3-hour ballgame took over 6 hours because of the lighting off over the Wisconsin horizon.
It also eased the sting Sunday, when the teams met again at 3:05 p.m. Zack Soria played left field, and Nate Soria was Waterloo’s designated hitter. This time the Bucks scored three runs in the top of the first, stringing together four hits, and that was enough to withstand a Huskies run in the second and another in the fourth. An insurance run gave Waterloo a 4-2 victory in an unusual game, which saw some unusual but flashy double-plays, and some good infield defense. It also put on display the teams’ preference for hitting, as the Huskies racked up 13 hits to 12 for the Bucks.
If you’ve been watching the NCAA World Series at Omaha on ESPN, you can appreciate how good Division I college baseball is. The Northwoods League give you another chance to see numerous D-I players and some hopeful D-II and D-III prospects. It’s a good experience.
For the two Soria brothers from Homer Glen, Ill., the unique chance to play together this summer has not worked out as hoped. Zack has been catching and hitting over .300, but Nate has been used sparingly, as he tries to coax a shoulder injury back to full strength. But after a long college season, lengthened by some playoff success, the rigorous 70-game Northwoods season has left both of them weary. They and their college coaches and the Waterloo staff have agreed to let them head home early for a little recovery time. Then Zack goes back for his senior year at Florida International, and Nate heads for Xavier.
Still, it was an interesting weekend, and Aunt Beth got to see her two nephews play in a unique setting.